I’ve been maintaining some form of radio silence over the last few months on this blog. I just haven’t really felt like writing, to be honest. Also, additionally, a LOT of things have happened too. Namely the whole leaving-Stratford-and-going-back-to-Galway thing, which happened around the end of December and the beginning of January. I do miss Stratford, but feel quite fortunate to be back to Galway too (and close to home, to boot). The pangs for the Midlands lessen the longer I spend here, although I’ll be glad to visit the place once again during the summer.
Anyway, the one reason that motivated me to write again was seeing this notice in my notifications this morning… ‘You registered with WordPress three years ago!’
I had no idea my blog shared its birthday with Shakespeare! Well, relatively speaking. We don’t exactly know when he was born.
Whereas I don’t want to make any claims to greatness or anything, I just thought it was an unintentionally serendipitous touch, given that I’ve spent the last number of years watching/thinking about/reading/arguing about Shakespeare and early modern drama (can we PLEASE think of a way to construct that sentence that isn’t ‘Shakespeare and his contemporaries’. Maybe just ‘early modern drama’ will do. Maybe) for god knows how long. I could talk at length about what studying Shakespeare has granted me over the last year and a half, but frankly, that day is not today because I want to go home, eat chocolate, and watch Othello. I may not be there for the fireworks over the Royal Shakespeare Theatre tonight, but I’m having a pretty great Shakespeare’s birthday regardless — and I hope you are having a good one too.
[A word of caution: if you intend on seeing Richard II and want all of its surprises kept intact, then abandon hope, all ye who enter here.]
When it was first announced that David Tennant was to play Richard II in Greg Doran’s production at the RST, I was quite excited. To start with, Richard II is one of my favourite Shakespeare plays. It’s so beautifully written, and also so very moving: I remember reading it for the first time around this time last year, sitting in the Shakespeare Institute library with my jaw agape because I had just finished reading 3.2. It’s where Richard fully realises the extent of Bolingbroke’s uprising, where he recognises the tide is turning against him, that the fact that he is ‘anointed’ won’t save him. And it culminates in that wonderful ‘hollow crown’ speech: ‘Our lands, our lives and all are Bolingbroke’s,’ he says, ‘And nothing can we call our own but death | And that small model of the barren earth | Which serves as paste and cover to our bones’. It dawns on you, the reader, that Richard is about to lose everything, and nothing he can own (not even his life) can be his anymore. The veneer begins to slip, you begin to see the pathetic little man behind the crown and the sceptre, and you can’t help but feel for him. I’ve never had a play have such an immediate emotional impact on me, just on the page.
But anyway. Back to 2013. I was excited about this production. But for some strange reason, I could not place Tennant in the role. I knew that he would be GOOD, at least, but I could not discern how he would approach it at all. I guess this wasn’t helped by the poster that was released, which now adorns the programme cover: a portrait of the actor sat back in a chair with the Westminster Portrait behind him (as seen above). It doesn’t really offer any clues as to what the aesthetic of the production may be, compared to other RSC productions such as this year’s As You Like It (which displays two muddy lovers kissing at Glastonbury, hinting at the festival-y, summery setting) and 2012’s Richard III (which emphasised the dominance of the female characters as they surrounded Jonjo O’Neill’s Richard as he sat atop a globe). But a picture of Tennant in jeans and trainers with a painting? What does that mean? Is it just emphasising the star quality of the production more than anything?
I guess this is the part of the review where I reassure the reader that Tennant is actually quite good in the role. He starts off as rather elevated, impossible to read, and also quite unpredictable and petty (his throwing down of his sceptre during Bolingbroke and Mowbray’s duel is played on a whim, almost out of sheer boredom). But as any good Richard does, he slides towards earning our sympathies as the production progresses: he’s particularly on fine form during 3.2, as we watch him break down in front of all his followers. I found myself constantly comparing his performance to that of Ben Whishaw’s in The Hollow Crown throughout the first half: whereas both portrayals present an effeminate, flighty, and fey king, Tennant’s differs to that of Whishaw’s in his playfulness and aggression: he pushes Emma Hamilton’s Queen around, ordering her to ‘be merry’, and violently grabs Michael Pennington’s John of Gaunt, despite the latter being on his deathbed. Whishaw’s aloof portrayal almost resembles some kind of Regina George figure (but, as Poly Gianniba points out, he clearly doesn’t want the responsibilities he’s been shackled with), but Tennant plays a rather child-like king, who veers from throwing temper tantrums to revealing an acute vulnerability when all is lost. And whereas the king’s homosexuality is only hinted at in The Hollow Crown, Tennant’s Richard forges a close connection to Oliver Rix’s Aumerle, sharing a tender kiss with him at Flint Castle. It’s this relationship that dominates this production: Aumerle takes the place of Exton in murdering the king, and his divided loyalties to Richard and his father (and additionally, Bolingbroke) torment him. Rix is particularly good in conveying the character’s pain, and compliments Tennant’s performance well: his slowly dissolving into tears as Richard ponders ‘What must the king do now? Must he submit?’ is quite poignant, leading to the tender moment that they share. Swinging their legs over the parapet, they are two boys standing alone against the world, with nothing else but each other.
Other than Tennant and Rix, there are some excellent performances from the rest of the cast: some have quite limited stage time, but still make an impact. Jane Lapotaire as the Duchess of Gloucester becomes the production’s pre-show, draping herself across her dead husband’s coffin — and continues to do so for the entirety of 1.1. Whereas I wonder if Doran wanted to get the most that he possibly could out of Lapotaire and of this small part, it works in that it centralises Gloucester’s death amidst the business that Mowbray and Bolingbroke have in the first scene. Thus, it provides a smooth transition to the following scene that Lapotaire shares with Pennington’s Gaunt, which is in itself quite tender and affecting. Naturally, Pennington goes on to completely nail ‘This royal throne of kings, this sceptered isle, | This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars’: raging against the dying of the light, it’s a performance of frustration, guilt, and regret. Hamilton is quite touching as the Queen, completely oblivious to her husband’s dominance over and disinterest in her. Oliver Ford Davies is not just funny as York, but can be also quite cruel towards his onstage son, and quickly becomes exasperated at his, and the king’s, actions. We can’t neglect Bolingbroke: Nigel Lindsay is similar to Rory Kinnear’s in his sheer imposing stature, but plays him as cocksure, cynical, and swaggering, although whether this too is nothing more than a veneer is up to debate. It’s also interesting to note that Lindsay played Ariel to Tennant’s Katurian in the National’s production of The Pillowman a number of years ago. Whereas I can’t judge what their dynamic may have been like in that production, and whereas the Richard/Aumerle relationship is emphasised more greatly than Richard/Bolingbroke, the antagonistic dynamic that Richard and Bolingbroke engage in reflects that of the bullish detective and the accused writer in McDonagh’s play. Only here, the dynamic keeps shifting: 3.2 reduces Richard to tiny little pieces, but the deposition scene has him running rings around Bolingbroke: refusing to let go of the crown, standing and shouting on top of his throne, and becoming Bolingbroke’s very own personal space invader armed with a mirror. And while Lindsay may not have an awful lot to say in this scene, his derisive laugh and gesturing after Richard following his departure conveys so much: a need to save face, an attempt to regain some control over what has happened.
The set, designed by Stephen Brimson Lewis, is simple. Once you enter the theatre, the initial pre-show with Lapotaire and the coffin, set in a black austere court, immediately makes an impression. Characters use minimal props, ascend an ascending or descending parapet, and the use of holograms, along with Tim Mitchell’s lighting, effectively conveys a sense of place for each scene: the world of the production is vaguely medieval, but not necessarily committed to it (but such is Shakespeare’s commitment to historical accuracy, anyway). But Brimson Lewis’ set deceives you with its simplicity (evoking Doran’s Macbeth and its bare, dark stage full of surprises): the floor opens up to reveal Richard’s bareboned prison towards the end, trapping him under the stage. It emphasises his isolation, solitude, and confinement, similar to Sam West’s performance of the soliloquy in a standing wooden box at the Swan in 2001. It is economical yet effective, and the same could be said of Paul Englishby’s score, which is dominated by the singing talents of three sopranos and a number of trumpets sounding.
So yes, I quite liked this production, and I’m excited to see it again soon in the Barbican. Runs in Stratford until 13 November, and runs in London from 9 December to 25 January.
POSTSCRIPT: Much thanks to Poly Gianniba for the long, interesting, stimulating twitter conversation about the production, some elements of which surfaced here and still linger in my thoughts regarding the play in performance. You can find her excellent (and unspoilery!) review here. Also, all references to the play have been taken from the most recent Oxford World’s Classics edition, edited by Anthony B. Dawson and Paul Yachnin (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2011). A fantastic critical edition which I’d thoroughly recommend.
A while ago, Midsummer Night’s Dreaming, a collaboration between the Royal Shakespeare Company and Google+, took place in Stratford over the weekend of 21-23 June. (Well, if you’ve been reading this blog for the past while, you already know this.) After distilling my thoughts about the project for some time now, I think it’s now time to offer some thoughts on the weekend’s events, as well as prior to that. As well as posting some pictures that I took of the performances — the internet does like pictures, right?
A lot of criticism aimed at the project suggested that those who got the most of the project were those who attended the events in Stratford, or as Dominic Cavendish in The Telegraph suggested, ‘you were confronted with a near-constant stream of tittle-tattle about the action, most of it posted by new ancillary characters, without witnessing the thing itself.’ Whereas I’d be the first to admit that the live performances really enhanced my experience of the event, and that my opinion is wholly subjective in that I had experienced the play both offline and online, I’m unsure if Cavendish and others had been interacting with the Google+ community before the weekend had started, or had they even posted at all. That community had been there for quite a long time before the 21st June, with people from around the world posting and sharing content. Not only that, but the RSC had organised live Google Hangouts for people to watch in the run-up to the weekend, featuring contributions from director Greg Doran, actors performing in the show, and those who had interacted with the play through their work creatively and academically — so there had also been interactive content directly linking to the shows that were coming up. I had only joined the community a week or two before the performances, but posting in it encouraged me to be creative about what I posted, and to be creative about how I would interact with the play online. I can’t speak for those who couldn’t be in Stratford, but I honestly think that it was a project that the more you put in, the more you got out of it. I understand that some people would be happy just to see the shows. Some people are happy enough to share posts and look at the pictures online. But whatsoever way you chose, it welcomed an active response rather than a passive one.
I missed the performance of Act 1 on Friday (due to taking Sam aka WordOtter to his first RSC performance — it was Hamlet, fact fans), but I did catch the rest of the performances that followed. The next performance took place in the Ashcroft Room at 2.30am on Sunday morning, which took care of Act 2 to 4.1. It was limited seating, in a room full of windows and probably mainly used for rehearsal space (anyone who has been in the Ashcroft Room more often than I have, please feel free to prove me wrong), with limited props. Doran asked us to think of it as a ‘rehearsal’ — they had only been rehearsing it for the past week, and they were all in basic costumes — but it was a very, very good rehearsal if that’s so: special commendations to Peter de Jersey’s Oberon/Theseus, Alexandra Gilbreath’s Titania/Hippolyta, Joe Dixon’s Bottom, and Lucy Briggs-Owen’s Helena (and you, Robin Goodfellow, in your Mark Hadfield disguise). The fact that it was a select audience, that there wasn’t that many of us, lent a sense of mystique to the proceedings. To put it plainly: it’s very early morning in the forest, and while people are sleeping soundly in their beds, there’s some mischief going on here — and we’re the only ones who know what’s going on. And as intended, things wrapped up around 4am in the morning. Light was beginning to pour out of the windows in the Ashcroft Room. Stumbling outside of the Swan Bar, day had come. It was a nice touch.
The next afternoon saw Stratford preparing for Midsummer’s three weddings, so in Bancroft Gardens a fete was held, with food; cake to be decorated and, uh, other decorations to be made; and free music. It might just have been the first wedding to have a donkey as a wedding cake.
It was a rather nice way to spend a Sunday afternoon: for one thing, the kids taking First Dance lessons along with their parents has to be one of the cutest things ever. It may have been wet, yes. I don’t know whether it’s my nostalgia for picnic blankets and music festivals, but sitting with a massive group of people nestling near the stage (with picnic blankets, obviously) waiting for 4.2 to begin is not a bad way to spend your Sunday.
The performance of 4.2 was brief, as it had to be. The most interesting part was watching the rehearsal of 5.1, or what we could see of it until it got rained off. Not that it dampened anyone’s spirits: dear Sammy had to flee, but he was just happy that he got to see Greg Doran for the first time. Everyone’s first sighting of Greg Doran is always a happy time: just ask any Institute student. I regret that I don’t have any pictures of Joe Dixon in a ridiculous wig playing with kids. Ah well.
A part of me was slightly glad that the rehearsal got rained off before we could see the entirety of the final act being rehearsed: seeing as I was going to see it later that night, I prefer it when I don’t see what’s coming, and I like to be surprised. So maybe it was simply serendipity. Later that night, it was thankfully dry once more, but the Dell was illuminated with several torches and rugs lying on the ground for people to sit on. [My companion and I ended up sitting beside Antony Sher: I apologise for the babbling Mr Sher, it was just really exciting to meet you for the first time.] The atmosphere was warm, affectionate, and intimate. I’m sure so many people in the audience had seen Midsummer several times. Maybe some of them, like myself, were seeing it for the second time (the first had been the SI Players’ wonderful production, and I am not being biased just because I was in the revival). Or maybe some had never seen it before. Who knows. But the audience shrieked with laughter when Dixon as Bottom as Pyramus kissed Wall’s ‘stones’ (I’ll leave that to your imagination), when Jim Hooper’s lovably benign Starveling turned up, literally resembling the man in the moon, and when Pyramus began to unfurl yards of red ribbon as he died (and kept dying, for as long as he possibly could do so). And just as Doran and the cast had hoped, the bells of Holy Trinity began to ring as Theseus was about to say ‘The iron tongue of midnight hath told twelve’, leading to a massive cheer from the audience. It may have been another ‘rehearsal’ to use Doran’s phrase, but another one worth watching.
But the one thing that stays with me, more than anything over the weekend, was the performance of Oberon and Titania’s blessing. Every single cast member moved towards the front of the performance space, Theseus and Hippolyta leading the way as they began to sing the blessing to the audience. Illuminated by the torches, each actor hummed, harmonised, or just sang along. A few of the Mechanicals got out small bottles of liquid and began to blow bubbles which floated into the air. Perhaps it was the light, perhaps it was the music, perhaps because it was that midnight atmosphere, but I felt incredibly moved by this. I guess you could say that the actors created a sense of communitas amongst us all, to steal the term from Victor Turner. I can’t account for every single audience member there, but I don’t think I’ll see a production of Midsummer quite like that one.
Although, the final performance raised questions about the advantages and disadvantages of performance spaces for such an experiment. As we were encouraged to take photos and update to Google+ or elsewhere with the hashtag #dream40, I had been doing so rather regularly throughout the weekend, as had several people attending the performances (the multiple photos, videos, and different perspectives became rather interesting to see as the weekend progressed). I had no problems with taking photos during the performances on Sunday morning and afternoon, but things became rather complicated during the final performance. For some reason I could not pick up the wifi on my iPad, so I resorted to using my tiny little smartphone with a not-so-smart camera to take pictures (which is why the night-time pictures look so blurry). Even though we were allowed to take pictures and update, the darkness and atmosphere somewhat inhibited me. It was hard to see any similar lights along the front row of rugs, but my phone was one source of quite, quite blinding light, so much that I kept accidentally blinding my companion with it (and then began to wonder if I had been doing the same to others). Maybe it was just the smart-phone, maybe it was my own sheer clunkiness and lack of subtlety in operating it, maybe it was my need to update during the performance instead of after as others had chose to. It does, however, ask questions as to which performance spaces can lend itself to such an initiative as #dream40, and which equipment and interfaces would lend itself well to it too.
Regardless, I sincerely hope the RSC and Google do a similar project in the future — The Tempest, The Comedy of Errors, and Much Ado About Nothing could work particularly well in real-time, although the former would rely on Prospero and Miranda being shipwrecked on an island that also happened to have wifi — and I hope that they continue to experiment with the format. Maybe live-streaming would be the next thing to add, for instance. I just hope they don’t just stop there. Midsummer Night’s Dreaming allowed me to commune with others in the performance space and also online, and goodness knows there’s several ways in which one can mine that for creative advantages.
There will be a free to attend symposium titled ‘Shakespeare in Education: Current Trends and New Directions’, organised exclusively by students of The Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham on Wednesday 3rd July 2013.The symposium is supported by the University’s Postgraduate Research Development Fund and is designed for those interested in Shakespeare and Education including students, alumni and any Shakespeare educators. It will be held at the Shakespeare Institute campus over one day from 10am-4pm, bringing together both new and expert researchers at an emerging hub of scholarship in Shakespeare and education.
Together with disseminating, sharing, and discussing a range of teaching methods and approaches,we have visiting speakers and experts to discuss topics at the forefront of the field, ranging from using digital Shakespeare resources to getting published.
The tentative schedule is as follows (all events in the Hall):
10-10.55 Shared Experiences and New Ideas – Laura Nicklin and Thea Buckley
This will consist of a workshop-discussion presenting our findings and experiences from attending relevant conferences. It will be an opportunity for us to share with you what we have learned that will then act as a springboard for the afternoon’s group discussion.
11-12.30 Plenary – James Stredder: ‘Active Shakespeare in the Cyberage: can collective theatre-making survive in today’s classroom?’
Dr James Stredder was Chair of the British Shakespeare Association Education Committee until very recently and is still working with the BSA in the field of Shakespeare and education. He has a vast and deep knowledge of the teaching Shakespeare field and has previously taught the Shakespeare and Pedagogy module at the Shakespeare Institute. He holds an MA and PhD in Shakespeare studies and is the esteemed author of the fantastic teaching resource The North Face of Shakespeare. He will be running a dialogue/workshop with us all, including discussing the sources of current trends in teaching Shakespeare and the new directions that these are taking.
12.30-13.15 Lunch Break
A sandwich lunch will be provided in the Conservatory.
13.15-14 .00 Roundtable Discussion
The idea here is to create a shared platform for discussing that which you may have experienced as being particularly successful or unsuccessful in teaching Shakespeare. Through this we can gain and create a knowledge bank of new and existing ideas that we can then take into our own educational work and/or experiences.
14.00 -15.50 Innovative Software Focus Group – Andrew Kennedy: ‘Storming Shakespeare: Applying MovieStorm softwares to teaching Shakespeare’
Andrew Kennedy is a pioneer in software for education and is the Managing Director of software company Movie Storm. In coming to share and develop his new engagement with Shakespeare and educational software with the conference delegates, he hopes to gain useful feedback to ensure that the product developed is something that will be of optimum usefulness in educational settings. This session will involve a discussion dialogue, practical demonstration and first chance use of software built with the purpose of teaching Shakespeare. This will give all delegates the unique opportunity to trial and contribute to the effective development of this product to ensure that the ultimate creation is ideally fit for most effective use.
15:50- 16:00 Closing Remarks and Thanks
Our student-led symposium also aims to build on this knowledge base of current approaches to teaching Shakespeare, by situating it in the latest scholarly conversation through sharing insights gained through the organisers’ wider experience in participating at recent international level Shakespeare conferences. These include most importantly the Worlds Together Conference on Shakespeare in education in London late last year sponsored by the Royal Shakespeare Company, and the recent Folger Shakespeare Library educational workshop on Setting Shakespeare Free and active approaches at the 2013 Shakespeare Association of America (SAA) Conference, Toronto.
A light lunch will be provided for all attending. We are also a short walk from the nearby railway station. There is parking; however it is very limited on site, so where possible delegates are advised to use public transport or seek alternative parking in Stratford.
If you wish to attend please e-mail Laura Nicklin or Thea Buckley at email@example.com with your name, or click ‘attending’ on the Facebook event. We look forward to seeing you at the event.
[So, yeah. If you happen to be in the Stratford vicinity, you might want to go to this. It’s free, I tell you, FREE! I’ll be livetweeting from the conference with the hashtag #edshakes2013 (I’m @emeramchugh), I’d love it if you could join in the conversation. So I’ll see you there, yes?]
These pieces above are two presents I have received in advance of my birthday next Wednesday. The larger one is a very colourful breakdown of the entirety of Cymbeline (using the Arden 2 edition), spearheaded by Mickum, with assistance from L and my former and much missed housemate SM. The smaller is an original painting of a cat by SM. I love them both, and my friends, to bits. The unveiling of the former last night was only augmented by Easter caterpillar chocolate cake and L adopting random poses inspired by Shakespearean characters chosen by me at will.
It is currently snowing outside, and I am currently not in the library (when your mother calls you up on a Sunday afternoon, and tells you not to go and wrap up warm, then it’s alright, isn’t it?). I have also finished my masters classes for the year. It hasn’t really registered with me yet — Thursday felt like a normal day of classes and seminar and play reading, except us BritGrad elves put on another bake sale and I ate more of Our Fearless Leader’s cake pops. I know that now, there’s a long month ahead of me, in which I’ve got to write 6,000 very good words. And then start a dissertation in May. But first, there’s Easter and turning 23 with the other half and my Stratford friends. And then maybe, the Grand Revelation will hit me then. It always takes its time, where I’m concerned.
This is also my first time composing a blog post from the iPad. It’s been a fraught process, maybe because I keep hitting the wrong buttons on the touchscreen, and having to tell wordpress that NO, I DON’T WANT TO INSERT A LINK RIGHT NOW, THANK YOU VERY MUCH. But I can insert pictures (as you can see), which is very cool.
Baby steps, as you can see. Happy hope-snow-isn’t-obstructing-you-much day to you all. It’s the end of March, for god’s sake.
*I just really liked the rhyme and pun. I couldn’t think of anything else more positive.
Greetings from the second-last-week-of-Masters-classes-sweet-jesus. To add my voice to the masses, I can’t believe how fast it’s gone by. It’s a Tuesday evening in Stratford and the most exciting thing that’s happened to me today was finishing a first draft of an essay due next week, ordering a lasagne in the Garrick Inn, and realising that I HAVE MS PAINT ON MY LAPTOP, and HEY, WHY DON’T I USE IT ON MY BLOG.
1. I am 23 on the 27th of this month. I am almost two years off living for a quarter of a century. Which is kinda cool — I never got why people got so wound up about not being asked for ID once they got past a certain age. I’m also waiting for the whole panicking-about-what-I’m-supposed-to-do-with-the-rest-of-my-life thing to kick in, but before then, there are essays. And dissertations. And BritGrad (come to BritGrad! Ah, you will. Please?). And stuff. More present things. I had a performance exam last Sunday, so at least there’s potential for a ‘Will perform two select monologues from the Shakespeare canon for money’ cardboard sign. As well as the pointless Shakespearean performance history trivia that has wormed itself into my brain over the past few years. I can tell you when the Swan Theatre opened or when Kathryn Hunter played Lear for five pounds!
2. As represented by the work of art above, it is really cooooold in Stratford. In March. Sometimes it feels like I never left Ireland at all, what with all the indecisive weather. Not pleased with these turn of events, as I did not plan on WEARING WINTER GLOVES IN MARCH.
3. Thanks to the other half, I now have tickets for Richard II at the Barbican this December. One also recommends quite highly A Life of Galileo at the Swan and also looks forward to Hamlet and As You Like It at the RST, as well as the SI Players’ production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream THIS WEEK (break several legs, guys!).
4. I think I have a dissertation topic. It’s formulating and is still quite embryonic, but I’m genuinely quite excited about it. More anon.
5. Here is a horse. I drew it for you.
It’s slowly dawning on me that this post was an excuse just to draw amateurish pictures on Paint. Bet you loved it anyway.
I wouldn’t necessarily say that my annual report would be the most impressive thing that you’ll see this year, but it’s nice to see how far the blog has come. (And there are fireworks too!) I’m personally glad to see that ‘Women with Asperger’s syndrome’ was a particularly popular post, and of course, one is always very happy to see that picture of Mick Jagger from Bent again.
However, it has got me thinking about the year itself. At this present moment in time, I’m pretty much halfway through my masters degree, I’m in the UK, it’s my first Christmas as a postgraduate student, and also it’s my first Christmas HAVING TO WORK OVER THE BLOODY HOLIDAY PERIOD. You can add a optional ‘Gah!’ after that last bit, if you so choose. I’d like to think that at this point, I’ve adjusted more to what is expected of you as a postgraduate. I feel that I’m almost settling into a groove of sorts, knowing what level to work at. Well, maybe — we’ll see what happens when the final essays for this semester come in, how second semester pans out, and when the dissertation kicks off next summer. But in general, this year has been all change, change, change. In more ways than one.
There are *some* constants. I’m happy to announce that I’m still in love with Shakespeare, in fact I probably love him even more now. I’m happy to announce that the friends and family I care about are still here, whether they are still in Ireland, reside in the UK, or further away. And I’m happy in Stratford, which has been almost a new beginning of sorts. I know I’m starting to sound like a Stephen Gately song, so any better turns of phrase will be very much appreciated in the comments.
I haven’t had any major problems with 2012 (it still has one more day to completely mess around with me though). I’m hoping that this time next year, I can say the same about 2013 (don’t mess around with me either, please). I hope all of you have as much fun as you can possibly muster in 2013, just as long as you don’t go too crazy on the pink lemonade while you’re at it.
As of last Tuesday, I officially became Emer McHugh, B.A. (NUI), and became an alumna of NUIG. I saw my friends, my other half, my family, hugged and waved at numerous people, paraded around in academic robes and struggled to keep my hat on my head. I didn’t realise how much fun a day it would be. And then I hopped on a bus at 1am, flew out to Birmingham at 6.30am, and arrived back in time for class at 1pm that afternoon.
Welcome back to Postgradland.
I have been immersed in Postgradland (or as it is officially known, a Masters degree in Shakespeare and Theatre at the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford-upon-Avon) for about five weeks now. I’m glad that now I can focus on something that I really do love, and that I can commune with people who share that same love. The novelty of that wears off in the first week, which is not necessarily a bad thing — it’s just second nature for us all to talk about Shakespeare and early modern theatre, and to natter about what we find so interesting about it.
At the same time, nobody prepares you for what a Masters or any form of postgraduate course entails. No-one tells you what to expect. NOBODY. I’m not asking to be spoonfed here, but after talking to fellow new postgrads, I’ve come to the conclusion that the first few weeks of a Masters is the equivalent of wading around in a deep lake that you thought was just a shallow pond. (Poor metaphor, I know.) It wasn’t what we expected it to be, but I don’t necessarily mean that in a bad way. We just went into it blindly, I think. But there’s a sense that maybe, just maybe, we should have pulled one of our lecturers aside, or someone who has gone through it, anyone, and asked a bunch of questions.
So this is for those of you who are contemplating doing a Masters degree. I’m not trying to put anyone off, but these are just my own observations.
1. It is a lot of work. Biggest ‘duhnoduh’ statement, but it is true. You may have six hours a week, but you do have work to complete for those six hours. If you’re a humanities student like yours truly, most of it will be reading. Which is not a bad thing. But there is generally a much shorter timeframe for you to do that reading. So, to quote one of my English lecturers at NUIG, ‘you’ve really got to like reading’.
2. You may feel that you can’t do the work. But that is OK. What was crucial for me was knowing that others felt the same way. Whether they were in the same course as me, whether they were in the same university, whether they were back home in Ireland or here in the UK. A great piece of advice from one of my best friends was that eventually, you catch up to the pace of what is expected of you. That same person has just received his results from his Masters, and he’ll be graduating from his M.IT very, very soon. I’m very proud of him. He also makes a mean cup of tea.
3. You’re not special anymore. Remember when you were the only kid in your seminar who actually talked and took an interest? Remember being the only one who answered questions in your lectures? And over the years during your undergraduate degree, as you attend classes and accumulate good grades, you have slowly built up a very good reputation for yourself. Well done you, but it turns out that you weren’t the only one. More than likely, your fellow classmates didn’t just sign up for this course out of idleness and are there because of their ability, interest in the subject, and intellect. And yes, you may not feel special anymore, but that’s something you need to get used to. It’s also something you can use to your own advantage too, which leads me onto to my next point.
4. You know what’s the coolest thing about doing a Masters? The people. I know it’s something I keep reiterating again and again, but it is true. Especially if you’re interested in something that is quite specialist, like Shakespeare or the eighteenth century. It’s incredibly nice to be surrounded with folk who want to talk about whether Aaron from Titus Andronicus is more sympathetic than Richard II in the pub, or whether that production you saw at the RSC the night before was better the second time you saw it. The lecturers and seminar leaders are just as eager to talk about such topics too. And for once, you’re not the only would-be academic in the room, and those who don’t want to be academics still care about what they’re studying too. For me, that’s just heartening.
So there you have it. While I’m at it, I should refer you to my dear friend Patrick McCusker’s post on a similar topic (albeit it deals more with studying for a Masters abroad). In general, I recommend his blog The Neverending Blog: Part II. It’s funny, insightful, and quite thought-provoking.
I’ve been living in Stratford for the past few days now, and two weeks from today, myself and a gaggle of other new students will be arriving at the Institute for the start of two weeks’ induction. Exciting, nerve-wracking, new, lovely stuff. Although, in the light of new things and new places and new newness, I’m trying to avoid turning this post into a minutiae description of what it took to get there, like some blogs do. Seriously, I just hopped on a plane from Knock, landed in Birmingham, took a train or two, THAT WAS IT. This blog does not host contemporary rewritings of ‘Old Man Travelling’, if that’s what you’re here for.
Stratford hasn’t really changed a lot since I last was here, unless you’re counting the amazingly fantastic weather. Hundreds of tourists are still pounding the pavement on Henley Street, filling its restaurants, wandering into Shakespeare’s house and gardens and into the giftshop and bookshop, and eventually trickling down onto the green outside the RSC Theatres. Seeing so many people enjoying the sunshine, replete with vendors floating in the river (coming from Ireland, I still find that incredibly novel) and buskers playing the violin or the electric guitar — it’s a sight that’s very reminiscent of Galway in the summertime. Oddly, I still feel like a tourist of some sort, but maybe that’s because I’m still finding my way around, looking for the nearest ATM, the cheapest place to buy colour shampoo, and still finding hidden crevices within the town that I hadn’t discovered before.
I can’t remember if I felt the same about Galway — the first time I had visited NUIG with the intent of studying there, to me the university appeared to be this GREAT BIG SPACE. I genuinely thought it was huge (it’s really, really not). Subsequently, when I finally moved, I barely remember if I ventured beyond the centre of town at all (getting involved in NUIG Dramsoc actually brought me into the town more, now that I think of it). I speak as someone who only first went out to Salthill in my third year, to the ridicule of many.
Anyway, such adjustment is customary, isn’t it? I like to think that I’ve learned a bit about adjusting to somewhere new four years on. The funny thing is, I’ve realised that I’ve gone from being the token Shakespearean in Galway to potentially becoming the token Paddy here. We’ll see how that works out around 17th March.
As well as this, other newness currently resides in my room, in the form of Very New Books and boxes of herbal tea. That’s a non-sequitur, right there, but surely a very necessary one. Newness continues apace!
I’m a little sentimental today, as today is the first time in four years that I won’t be starting another year in Galway. No more rolling into NUIG at nine in the morning, fresh as a daisy, at the start of the only week in the academic year where you could legitimately get away with not doing much work. No more filing into large lecture theatres, filling out forms, deliberating over whether you want to do the history of the Crusades or military history, children’s fiction or true crime. No more running into folks you haven’t seen in weeks or months, screaming down the concourse OH MY GOD HOW ARE YOU HOW WAS YOUR SUMMER etc. before you all go in separate directions for your first class.
A lot of people I know are doing that right now as I write. Some of them are starting or continuing their postgrad courses, some of them are going into final year, some of them are starting second year and awaiting what’s in store.
Life in Galway over the past four years wasn’t always without its stressful and unhappy moments. That’s only to be expected. But I’ll miss Galway immensely. I’ll miss the university, I’ll miss the people, I’ll miss the town. At the same time though, I am incredibly excited about moving to Stratford later this week. I’ve finally secured somewhere to live, and I’m looking forward to familiarising myself with the town even further. I’m looking forward to starting at the SI, to meeting people who love Shakespeare as much as I do (he’s a pretty cool guy, I know), to studying wonderful things such as performance history and practically every single play in the canon and experiential close readings and so on — the stuff I dreamed of learning more about from as little of more than a year ago when I realised that Shakespeare was what I wanted to continue with. This is the point in the post where I’d say ‘It’s a new chapter in my life, a new beginning’, but I’d rather side-step that for now. Mainly because it’s trite.